- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, the Republican congresswoman for New York's North Country and an ascendant star in her party, is on a fundraising tear with her increasingly close ally from Mar-a-Lago.
Stefanik and former President Donald Trump are set to hold their latest fundraiser together at his country club in Westchester County next week, a gathering at which guests are invited to pony up $25,000 for a "roundtable discussion" with the pair and a photo with the ex-president. It is reportedly their fourth joint fundraiser since a gathering at his Florida estate in January.
The 37-year-old congresswoman emerged as a forceful Trump defender during his first impeachment proceedings in 2019 and has risen in the party ever since. She was elected chairwoman of the House Republican conference last year and is now rumored to be a potential running mate for Trump if he runs again for president in 2024.
It has been a rapid climb for Stefanik, an Albany-area native who won New York's 21st Congressional District seat at age 30 and evolved from a Harvard-educated moderate to a staunch Trump supporter who proudly wears the "ultra-MAGA" label.
"Whether you're a fan of Elise Stefanik or not, it's impossible not to acknowledge that she's a pretty good card player," said William F. B. O'Reilly, a Republican consultant and commentator from Westchester County who has been critical of Trump's hold on the party.
"It's no surprise that she's being talked about as a potential Trump running mate. She spotted the populist lane long before many did and drove ahead full speed into it."
New York state news: Utility bills could increase by up to $18 a month as NYSEG, RG&E raise rates
Stefanik's office declined to comment on her relationship with Trump and the vice-presidential speculation, saying Stefanik was concentrating on her district and conference leadership.
“Congresswoman Stefanik is 100% focused on serving New York’s 21st Congressional District and as House Republican Conference Chair helping lead the efforts to take back the House in 2022 to fire Nancy Pelosi once and for all to save America,” Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser, said in a statement.
Stefanik and her district shift right
For almost eight years, Stefanik has represented a giant, triangular expanse of northeastern New York that is bordered on two sides by Canada and Vermont and takes in most of the Adirondack Mountains and Fort Drum Army base. Her district is so large it makes up more than a quarter of the state's entire land mass.
The politics of many of its voters have shifted in much the same direction as their congresswoman's. Trump prevailed there by 11 percentage points in 2020.
"We're Trump country," Fulton County Republican Chairwoman Susan McNeil said in a phone interview on Friday. "We all love President Trump. I'm driving right now and I'm still seeing signs for President Trump."
McNeil described Stefanik as a "normal, everyday person," at ease with people from all walks of life. "She can sit down and have a conversation with anybody," she said. In spite of her increasingly national role, Stefanik still travels her district and recently spoke a Fulton County Republican dinner, sticking around until the end, McNeil said.
She wasn't surprised by Stefanik's political ascent.
"She's a strong person who does not back down," she said.
Former Rep. Bill Owens, the Democrat who held the 21st District seat before Stefanik, said he initially had a friendly relationship with his successor, who appeared as a moderate in her party as he was in his.
"I was very pleased that someone like that had taken my place," said Owens, who served in Congress from 2009 to 2014 and is now a partner in a Plattsburgh law firm. "But I was wrong. She took this sharp turn to the right."
Under fire for ads, rhetoric
Stefanik became the third-ranking House Republican leader in May 2021, when her colleagues elected her after deposing Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as conference chairwoman. Cheney had infuriated fellow Republicans by repeatedly rebuking Trump, his baseless claims of election fraud and the violent Capitol attack his claims ultimately provoked.
Last year, Harvard's Institute of Politics removed Stefanik from an advisory committee for echoing Trump's claims about the 2020 election. Stefanik responded with a Trump-like counter-punch, scoffing on Twitter that it was "a badge of honor and a rite of passage" to join other conservative Republicans who have been "boycotted, protested and canceled" by American universities.
Stefanik also has come under fire recently for campaign ads she ran on Facebook last fall that accused Democrats of proposing amnesty for undocumented immigrants to gain voters and "overthrow our current electorate." The ads came under renewed scrutiny this month as a unsettling echo of the anti-minority rants made online by the 18-year-old suspected gunman who shot 10 people to death in a Buffalo supermarket.
She and her fellow Republicans dismissed that criticism as unfounded.
Owens, her predecessor in Congress, said Stefanik has grown from the slightly awkward candidate of her first campaign into a very competent politician, adept at interviews. But she also has moved from a traditional, small-government Republican into what he sees as a dogmatic Trump loyalist who demonizes opponents.
He noted in particular her harsh rhetoric, which included a tweet this month in which she blamed the infant formula shortage partly on "pedo grifters," meaning pedophiles.
"it's so extreme that it seems to me that she has made a character shift," Owens said.
Owens was skeptical Trump — if he runs again — would choose Stefanik as his running mate, because having two New Yorkers on the ticket would defy the usual practice of choosing a vice president from another valuable state.
The recent redrawing of New York's congressional map left Stefanik's home in Schuylerville, a village of 1,400 about 40 miles north of Albany, outside the reshaped 21st District. Stefanik, who is married and has a nine-month-old son, says her family will move to remain in the district.
Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Times Herald-Record and USA Today Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: NY congresswoman Elise Stefanik rises in GOP with tight Trump alliance